'Un-gala' fundraiser draws awareness to homeless ministry

Archbishop Samuel Aquila left serves food during the Christ in the City fundraiser in Denver Sept 4 2013 File Photo CNA CNA 9 5 13 Archbishop Samuel Aquila (left) serves food during the Christ in the City fundraiser in Denver, Sept 4, 2013 (File Photo/CNA).

Putting a unique spin on a typical charity fundraiser, the young missionaries of Christ in the City recently hosted an "un-gala" to raise awareness of efforts to serve the Denver homeless.

"For an "un-gala" gala, we wanted people to know first that we're going to ask for money, that's why we really used the term gala," said project director Yvonne Noggle in a Sept. 5 interview with CNA.

"But we also wanted to make it clear to come as you are, because that's what the homeless do, they come as they are."

Christ in the City, a project founded in 2010 by Catholic Charities of Denver, seeks to "love until it hurts" in order to serve those most in need. It offers resources and assistance to Denver's poor and homeless through the service of college-aged youth who commit to spending a summer, a semester, or a year in various ministries.

Participants receive spiritual and intellectual formation and partner with local homeless shelters, schools, Hispanic ministry centers, elderly homes and crisis pregnancy centers. They also perform street ministry, working directly with the homeless on the streets of Denver to provide for their material, spiritual and emotional needs.

During their Sept. 4 fundraiser, the missionaries served their guests the same way that they typically serve the homeless, offering a simple, homemade meal of grilled chicken, potatoes and salad.

"We wanted them to be served by the missionaries with the same love and care that we serve the poor," Noggle said. "It wouldn't feel right having a big gala where we're eating steak, and salmon and shrimp, when we are called to serve and live a simple life."

"We wanted it to be in the Christ in the City style, which is more of a humble nature," she said.

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of Denver, who was also present at the event, shared in the spirit of humble service, taking up an apron and salad tongs to help to serve the other guests along with the missionaries.

The apron-laden archbishop gave a short address to the attendees, offering some personal reflections on what it means to be a missionary, particularly in light of the past three Popes and their emphasis on an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.

"Pope Francis," he said, "has explained that the most powerful tool to change the world is a new heart, a heart full of tenderness, a heart regenerated by Christ. And that is what Christ in the City is trying to do: to bring a change that reaches all aspects of life, but starts by the transformations of the hearts."

Archbishop Aquila recounted a story that one of the Christ in the City missionaries had shared with him. The missionary had encountered one of the many homeless people in Denver, who was moved to tears, saying, "You are the first that told me that I am loved by God."

"There are too many who live like this," the archbishop said, "without knowing that they are being loved by God. And we as believers cannot accept this reality."

"Jesus' flesh suffers in all these existential peripheries. That's why Pope Francis speaks of the need to go to such peripheries, to change poverty, all poverties, especially the ones that bite deep in the souls."

Archbishop Aquila concluded his address with words of encouragement to the new missionaries, saying, "People may never understand what you are doing, but the joy of serving Christ among the poorest will never be taken away from you."

Noggle noted that the program is growing rapidly. Although it is only in its fourth years of existence, it may soon be spreading to two other cities.

This growth, she said, "really is a testament that it is the Lord's work, and that He has just been the one breathing life into it, and inspiring the hearts of missionaries and of all of our donors and benefactors and friends."

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"We won't ever know the fruits of what Christ in the City is doing now until heaven, and that's ok," she continued. "All I could ever ask for is that the Lord is 100 percent involved, and the Holy Spirit is breathing and moving in the organization."

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